The following is a post I wrote last year around the same time for a blog ring on the topic of consumerism, initiated by fellow writer Sue Mitchell.
We watch all kinds of television specials and Hallmark movies around this time of year that emphasize the true meaning of the holidays.
Yet, we really don’t allow ourselves the time or the opportunity to try and live it out in reality with our families and friends.
We’re frazzled and overworked with all the extra demands on our time, and our wallets. One of the most daunting and time-consuming tasks is buying gifts for everyone on our list.
Did you ever feel like you really wanted to have a different experience this year and not get so tapped out financially, emotionally, physically?
The constant barrage of advertisements on the Internet, on t.v. and on the radio remind kids of all ages what they absolutely need to ask Santa for this year, usually high-priced electronic items.
People now seem to be resorting to violence – rough, rude – and occasionally downright dangerous – competitive shopping behavior.
Take for example, this past Black Friday (tradition in the U.S. when many retail stores offer significant discounts on a handful of coveted items the day after Thanksgiving).
The bargain hunters fight earnestly through the large crowds, feeling victorious if they succeed in purchasing one of these ‘deals’. It doesn’t matter that they might have a large outstanding amount to pay off already on their credit cards; they go ahead and buy it anyway.
Who has convinced you that this is a must-have item anyway?
If society on the whole didn’t have the expectations that people would be spending all this money buying almost everyone they know gifts, would you still be doing it?
You can be an example to your children, family, co-workers and friends how to have a wonderful Christmas experience without incurring crippling debt that will be hanging over your head and causing your family more stress and untold financial consequences for the rest of the year (or longer).
According to the Federal Reserve, personal consumption debt in the U.S. is $6,672 per household (U.S. Census data, 2010). Add the $13,660 of non-revolving debt per household (car loans, furniture and consumer electronics) and you have most families carrying pretty much $20,000 of consumer debt. I believe the statistics in Canada are more or less the same.
Most of us buy way more than we’ll be able to pay for, for a very long time…
And still, the average family will spend over $800 for gift-giving this year.
So that awesome deal on a tablet or video game console you snagged and charged on your credit card at a popular electronics outlet on Black Friday will probably end up costing you more than the regular purchase price in the long-run, if you’re carrying over an outstanding credit card balance month after month.
As you know, if you’re not paying off your credit card balance every month, you’re paying a hefty interest on the balance owing. You might end up paying more for that coveted piece of electronic equipment that will become obsolete in a few years and have wasted all the time it took to research the deal online and then get to the store, and wait in overcrowded parking lots and long lineups at the cash.
In the end, you probably won’t really save anything and the credit card companies will be dancing a merry jig because you’re making their profits soar.
The companies that are paying big bucks on effective (and sometimes deceptive) advertising to sell you their products but making a boatload of profit in return – and the credit card companies who are making it easier and easier for you to rack up more and more debt to eagerly buy all these things – are playing you for a holiday fool.
If you don’t have money saved up that is specifically put aside to buy gifts, how about trying one of these two new traditions this year (or a combination) :
1. Buy only one gift for each person rather than several.
2. Make and give handcrafted gifts.
Consider this scenario that is probably played out in every suburb of North America during the holidays, over and over again :
1. Time to get kids organized/off the computer/etc and packed into car to head to mall: 20 mins + an Advil
2. Drive to the mall: 20 mins
3. Pull over at least once on way to the mall to answer urgent text message: 10 mins each time
4. Get to mall, circle parking lot several times before finding a spot: 15 mins
5. Walking into mall entrance, negotiating with bickering teens when and where to rendez-vous after shopping: 15 mins
6. Exhausting yourself as you try and find as many things as you can in overcrowded stores with a sweat-soaked gift list in hand- 3+ hours
7. Walking all over the mall trying to find said teens when they don’t show up as planned: 1 hour
8. Travelling back home, despairing because you’ll have to do this at least two more times before the unwrapping blitz day – 20 mins
Total time this trip = 6+ hrs
Total $ spent = “Clears throat uncomfortably”
Even if you don’t have kids or your children are adults, you may feel pressured to spend lots of time and money as well finding gifts for the people on your list.
At the very least, challenge yourself to spend half of what you usually do.
There are so many great websites that offer great low-cost ideas and free patterns sure to spark your creativity and enthusiasm. Here’s a few to get your crafting mojo running: Homemade Gifts made easy ;The Crafty Nest; Family Crafts;Easy knitted gifts.
Total time spent with or making gifts for loved ones = 15+ hours
Joy of creating a one-of-a-kind gift they’ll really appreciate and treasure always = PRICELESS
Take the pressure off yourself and your debt load by not getting carried away by the seasonal hype. Practice kindness towards yourself, your loved ones, and the environment by consuming less and contributing more value in gift-giving that has lasting meaning and use – for both you and the recipient.
You don’t have to be a slave to consumerism to buy happiness, or the perfect holiday experience.